I read The Shack about a decade ago. I was coming out of fundamentalist Christianity and rapidly deconstructing my faith, so fast that I was about to chuck Christianity entirely. The Shack presented a different view of God, a view that I had never heard any Christian express. God, as a black woman, now that’s a God I can relate to. God as a father and being all loving and cuddly didn’t really work for me, as it didn’t for Mack. People who were too chummy with God kind of weirded me out. I was the father of two girls not much older than Missy. So, I could relate to Mack’s pain when his daughter was murdered.
The Shack takes on a lot of big questions. And it offers some damn good answers, from my perspective. God loves us more than we can imagine. God is in this with us, even when we are in pain- maybe especially when we are in pain. Radical forgiveness is essential to living a life where we are not constantly hurting ourselves- letting go is essential. And there is a plan, even if we cannot always or even often see it. I read the book three times. I highlighted just about every page. I was in discussion groups where we discussed it. After reading it, I had a new understanding of the Trinity (still not a huge fan of it. I find it an unnecessary analogy that brings more confusion than it solves). But, I had a deeper appreciation of God as a loving, caring father- not someone who was out to get me and send me to an eternal fiery hell.
As I’ve read some others’ comments about the movie/book, one criticism that I am seeing is it doesn’t sufficiently answer the problem of theodicy. Theodicy is the branch of theology concerned with defending the attributes of God against objections resulting from physical and moral evil. Put simply, why would an infinitely loving and powerful God allow “evil” to exist? Why do we have to suffer?
This question is at least as old as the concept of God. The book of Job takes it on. If you’ve ever read the book of Job, you may have noticed God doesn’t give a direct answer. She doesn’t in The Shack either.
For me, the movie doesn’t have to answer the problem of theodicy. It’s not a problem I wrestle with anymore. There is “evil”. There is suffering. There is pain. That’s a given. It’s part of this world. Whether you are one who believes it’s because God screwed up on version 1.0 and allowed Adam to thwart His plans and now we’re in world 2.0; or you believe it was part of the design, we find ourselves in a world of pain. For me, the question is “What am I going to do with it?”. For most of my life I did not trust God. How could I? This was a God who put me in a world where I was in jeopardy of eternal torment. This was a God who allowed children to die. I was never naive enough to believe that nothing bad would ever happen to me (I was a weird kid). I always feared the worst. So, I did not, could not trust God. When I read The Shack the first time I still did not trust God, even after finishing the book.
Ironically, after Shayna’s passing, I finally got what it meant to have faith that life is happening for me, not to me. It’s not that bad things will not happen to me. It’s quite the opposite. It’s inevitable they will. It’s what the final outcome will be. There’s a powerful scene in the movie where Mack speaks with the personification of the Holy Spirit. She asks him about his definition of good and evil. To paraphrase, whatever he likes or brings pleasure to him or his loved ones is good. Whatever he doesn’t like or brings discomfort or pain to him or his loved ones is evil. When I heard Mack put this into words, I realized this is nearly the universal definition we all have of what is good and what is evil. Then she asks him “Have you ever been wrong? Have you ever changed your mind?” He answers, of course, yes. I think we all can think back to things in our life that we deemed “evil” at the time. And years later, we see the path that opened up because of those things and we wouldn’t change them if we could.
I think the answer to the problem of theodicy is trust. It’s trust in the process. It’s trust that we don’t have all of the answers yet and that when we do it’ll all make sense. In that sense, I think The Shack answered the question as well as it can be answered on this side of The Veil.